Religious leaders have a duty to help fight rising populism and intolerance, faith leaders said.
Rev. Andy Thompson, Anglican chaplain in Abu Dhabi, said it is time that the Abrahamic religions speak out against rising intolerance that sees extremists justify their actions in the name of religion. “Like it or not, bad religion is creating intolerance,” he said.
Thompson was speaking on the sidelines of the Human Fraternity Conference in Abu Dhabi just hours before Pope Francis was due to arrive in the UAE on his historic visit, which coincides with the start of the country’s “Year of Tolerance.” Religions must accept a level of responsibility for the acts of extremists, Thompson said. “I think there should be an ownership of responsibility on religious leaders. At the moment in the world of religion, there is a market of voices and the loudest ones are the negative ones. The vast majority of decent, ordinary, faithful people don’t buy into extremist ideology, but we’re silent and we can’t afford to be silent. We’ve got to be able to speak up as a global community and say, ‘this doesn’t define our faith’,” he said.
Populist politics is on the rise worldwide, driven by fears over immigration, job losses and a slump in the global housing market. There are fears of a return to the Cold War era, and the various conflicts across the Middle East show no sign of ending anytime soon.
UAE Minister of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al-Nahyan said it is “time to build bridges.” He told Arab News: “We need to demolish all the walls between us, and we need to have dialogue. Of course, everyone has their differences, but our differences should be our strength. We should understand each other. We should deal with each other with human dignity and respect.”
The Human Fraternity Conference is being attended by members of Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic faiths, including Hindu and Buddhist representatives.
Asked what could be achieved at the conference, several religious leaders told Arab News that they accepted to a degree that they were preaching to the converted on the subject of tolerance. But there was also a view that in sharing opinions and experiences, there could be a trickle-down effect.
Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, said children and young people are at risk of being influenced by populist messages. “Even if we’re preaching to the converted, then a multitude of converted are ready to go to the world and not only preach, but work against extremism, against hatred of each other, against xenophobia, against anti-Semitism, against Islamophobia,” he said.
Swami Brahmavirabas, of the Hindu faith, said the dialogue at the conference could be continued in other discussions between friends and colleagues, as well as world leaders. The more they promote peace, the greater the chance that more people will carry the message, then “the people who are bad will by default become fewer and fewer,” he added.
Buddhist Nipurvhasim from Mexico agreed that while those who are the root cause of instability in the world are not at the conference, there is nonetheless a responsibility on people of all faiths.
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